YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Riverside police officer is shot to death

Ryan Bonaminio did two tours in Iraq before returning to his hometown and his dream job. The Riverside police officer was killed by an unidentified suspect who remains at large.

November 09, 2010|By Phil Willon and Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Riverside and Los Angeles — Ryan Bonaminio walked into Ramona High School as a shy, greenhorn freshman and left as a Marine Corps ROTC platoon leader, charging head-on into the U.S. Army and two tours in Iraq before returning to his hometown and his dream job.

But his career as a Riverside police officer was cut short. Bonaminio, who would have celebrated his 28th birthday Thanksgiving Day, was shot and killed Sunday night next to a dark roadside by an unidentified suspect who remains at large.

"He was a good kid. It's a big loss to this community, especially when you're talking about someone who went into harm's way in a combat zone, then came home to protect your city and gets killed in his own backyard,'' said Sgt. Maj. Henry David Jr., his ROTC instructor. "It's pretty tough to deal with.''

Bonaminio, a four-year police officer, was on routine patrol about 9:45 p.m. when, with lights and siren on, he tried to pull over a stolen semi-truck believed to be involved in an earlier hit-and-run accident near the 60 Freeway. The driver of the trailerless cab sped down Market Street before pulling over in front of Riverside's Fairmount Park and running down a grassy field.

Shortly afterward, Bonaminio pulled over and ran after the suspect. Residents in nearby homes heard gunfire.

"It sounded like three pistol shots,'' said Shirley Wolfe, who lives a block away and heard the gunfire over the noise of her television.

Her husband went outside to investigate but couldn't see anything. The couple soon heard sirens as police swarmed the scene.

When backup officers arrived, they found Bonaminio on the ground bleeding from a gunshot wound. He was transported to Riverside Community Hospital, where he died, authorities said.

Assistant Police Chief Chris Vicino said the truck had only a front license plate, so Bonaminio was unable to radio it in. The officer never fired his gun, police said.

On Monday morning, police scoured the park grounds for evidence. Two police dogs and a volunteer crew with metal detectors assisted in the search.

Later, police released a photo of the suspect, whom they described as a black male in his mid-30s to mid-40s, about 6 feet 1 or 6 feet 2, with a slender build and possible facial hair. He was last seen wearing dark clothing and a light-colored baseball cap.

The photo was taken by a video camera inside the officer's patrol car, said Police Chief Sergio Diaz. It was taken after the suspect shot the officer and shows him as he is getting back into the cab to return it to the rental yard where it had been stolen, Diaz said.

"We're putting out the photo in hopes that somebody will see the suspect and do the right thing," Diaz said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday issued a statement offering his condolences to Bonaminio's family, and he ordered flags at the Capitol to be flown at half-staff.

A few miles to the west, family and friends descended on the modest home of the slain officer's parents, Joseph and Geraldine Bonaminio. The officer's brother and sister also live in the area. The family, when reached by telephone, declined to comment.

John Enriquez, Bonaminio's best friend, said the family was taking the news very hard. His mother was doing "terrible, that was her baby,'' he said.

Enriquez, an officer with the UC Riverside Police Department, said he met Bonaminio at the police academy in 2006.

"Army man and police officer. That's all he ever wanted to be," Enriquez said. "He's just really committed to work and working hard. He loved his family. Everyone is real close. He didn't have a large extended family, but he was close with his immediate family."

Bonaminio loved his dogs, Enriquez said: Misters and Hank, a pug and a Boston terrier. He also held season tickets for the Anaheim Ducks.

Bonaminio graduated from Ramona High School in 2000. He was a military police officer in the Army, serving in Baghdad and Mosul, Iraq, as well as in Kuwait City and Hohenfels, Germany. When he left the military to join the Riverside Police Department in 2006, he remained in the Army Reserves and was called back to duty in Iraq in 2008-09.

Bonaminio's neighbors, though shaken by the news, said they knew little about him since the officer moved into the suburban Riverside community known as Orange Terrace about six months ago. His home was empty Monday afternoon, with a pumpkin outside his front door and a newspaper in the driveway. The porch light was still on.

"He was never here. He was working the night shift and was probably sleeping during the day," said Lily Velazquez, 25, who lives next door. "We just saw him enough to say hello and goodbye."

Anyone with information regarding the incident is asked to call Det. Ron Sanfilippo at (951) 353-7105 or Det. Greg Rowe at (951) 353-7130.

Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein and Abby Sewell contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times Articles